By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has been mailing out cheques to people in recent years to help with issues ranging from property taxes to inflation to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And the cost of printing those cheques and putting them in the mail — not including the cost of the benefits themselves — seems to be quickly surpassing $1 million.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Progressive Conservative government announced it would issue $200 cheques to all seniors in the province who filed an income tax return in 2018. The province expected roughly 225,000 seniors to receive the money.
The cost of printing those cheques, putting them in envelopes, inserting a written message from then-premier Brian Pallister and sending them in the mail totalled just over $247,000, show documents obtained by The Canadian Press under a freedom of information request that took 2 1/2 years for the government to fulfil.
The following year, the government announced it would issue rebate cheques to property owners who pay education taxes on their property.
There were 456,168 cheques issued in 2021 and 438,331 cheques issued in 2022, and the average cost of producing and mailing each cheque was $1.15, the provincial finance department said in a recent written statement. That adds up to just over $1 million in production and mailing costs for those two years.
Another round of property tax rebate cheques is due this year.
More cheques have been announced in recent months. The government is currently sending cheques to help people with inflation. Anyone who filed tax returns in 2021 with a net family income of less than $175,000 is eligible. Single people are to getting $225. Couples will receive $375.
The Progressive Conservative government said the cost involved in mailing cheques is a small percentage of the money paid out in benefits, and cheques based on income tax returns or property taxes are the quickest way to determine who qualifies for the money.
“We find the cheques are the most effective and efficient (way to put) money directly into people’s hands,” Finance Minister Cliff Cullen said.
And while there is an existing system for property tax credits that are adjusted each year and are simply tacked on to people’s annual municipal bills, Cullen said issuing cheques for the rebates is faster because it doesn’t require the involvement of municipal governments.
The Opposition New Democrats said the cheques, and any written messages from the government that accompany them, are more about boosting Tory fortunes in advance of the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 3.
“Everybody can see that this is a political stunt and that the government is sort of cynically trying to buy votes with Manitobans’ money,” NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw said.
Instead of issuing sporadic cheques, he said, the government could do more to help people deal with inflation by keeping housing and utility costs down.